Friday, January 18, 2008


For decades I see ghosts. They run and run around the house; they stare in at windows, hold their limbs up to the glass. They like a game. They know just how much to show, for just how long, and how quick to run. They are not the ghosts we meet in books - those elegant, serious figures. They don't stand tall or turn slowly to meet one's gaze. They are not sad. These ghosts like to hide; they are nimble and young.

They appear, of course, in unexpected places: in the street, walking away; on a passing bus; exiting a bank or cinema. I have learned the ways of ghosts - that they sunbake, drive cars, enjoy parties more than I do, and that they must have access to surveillance equipment. This can be the only explanation as to how they follow me from house to house, suburb to suburb, beach shack to wheatbelt farm, to interstate cities and other continents. They even follow me into dreams, where they smile and pull up a chair, or watch me pass by, leaning easily in open doorways. They say:

Girl, come closer. And I look up. There are men and women. They seem happy to see me. I slow my step; a smile staggers in my mouth.

Girl, what is it?

Nothing, I say.

What is it you want?

Nothing at all.

They turn to each other. Then a short, fat woman with a mild round face and pale eyes cocks her head a little, like a dog might and, with a small smile, says: What is it, grand-daughter, you want from me?

I try to smile back; my face feels like a fence. Nothing, I say. No thing, not one single thing. No stone, no tree, no blanket, no book. No word, no touch, no house, no song. No fire or light or star or dawn.

She looks at me.

Turn away, I say. Be a statue. Be stone. Turn your back, your shawl, your long thick hair, your skirts, your coins, your crucifix. Turn away your arms, your singing arms, your arms once full of bracelets and your bracelets full of song.

But she looks at me.

Leave me. Leave me be. Be a stone. Be a tree. Be a stitch. Be still.

What does she think? That she can turn up now?

Don't look, I say. Don't look at me. I will take up threads. I will stitch you up. My needle is sharp. My needle is intent. I'll use skin and hair. My wire hair, your plaited hair. I'll use your shawl, its fine black threads. I'll use your home, your voice, your dreams, your arms. My needle is immense, my needle is obliging. My needle offers no resistance or opinion. My dumb needle does my own bidding. Your eyes and lips like three dumb leaves. I'll sew them up, your own dumb song, the dumb leaves of your face.

When I look again, she is gone. They are all gone. Hovsanna, grandmother, I've seen you always, everywhere I look and sleep. Now, I am older and less afraid. I want only to touch your face. Come back to me.

Excerpted from The Edge of The World, by Marcella Polain


Nessa said...

Reminds me of when I saw all of the ghosts. They do go away when you ignore them.

Jenn said...

I think what she wants is to call those ghosts back...writers preserve the shades.